The AIB GAA Club Championship Recap and Weekend Preview
BY OISIN LANGAN
“It’s going to be 15 against 15,” says Kilmacud Crokes manager Johnny Magee when the contrast between his club and their AIB Leinster Club Football Final opponents Mullinalaghta is put to him. The South Dublin club has a membership of 4,800 while their opponents in the final, the first Longford team ever to reach a provincial decider, have a parish population of around 400.
Mullinalaghta’s place in the final was secured with a comprehensive 2-15 to 0-3 win over Eire Óg. The Carlow outfit normally don’t concede much but had three men sent off in an ill-disciplined performance allowing the Longford champions to run riot.
While Mullinalaghta were able to enjoy the last few minutes of their semi-final, Kilmacud Crokes weren’t. David Nestor’s penalty save from the boot of Craig Rogers in injury time helped maintain the Dublin side’s 3-point lead until the final whistle.
Rogers scored a wonder goal for the Laois side earlier in the half to draw his side level. However, Pat Burke, Paul Mannion and marauding full back Andy McGowan gave the Purple and Gold a three-point cushion which they kept until the end. Portlaoise manager Malachy McNulty struggled to hide his frustration after the game, lamenting 12 missed chances by his side (including 7 first half wides) when he spoke to the media afterwards.
For most of this Crokes team, it’s a first ever Leinster final - except for defender Cian O’Sullivan, goalkeeper David Nestor, Mark Vaughan, Ronan Ryan and 35-year-old forward Pat Burke. Burke was there in 2005, 2008 and 2010 as the Stillorgan side conquered the province. At this stage of his career, the ex-Dublin and Clare player is grateful for another shot at glory.
“The last few years have been pretty bleak,” says Burke. “I doubted I’d be back, but I never doubted the club would be back, we’ve gone through a couple of bleak years but now we’re out the other side.”
Burke is very much looking forward to their meeting with Mullinalaghta on December 9th, “from everything I’ve read about them, they seem to be a great club, so the final will be a great occasion.”
In Connacht, Ian Burke proved the Man of the Match award is not about how many minutes you play. It’s more about what you do with the minutes you are given. The All-Star didn’t start the game against Ballintubber as he’s been suffering from a bout of the flu, but scored a goal with one of his first touches having been introduced as a second half sub. So influential was Burke during the time he was on the pitch, he did enough for TG4 to award him the Man of the Match award. These are great times for Corofin who are three-in-a-row AIB Connacht Club Champions and it would be a brave pundit who would bet against them retaining their All-Ireland title!
Dr Crokes made it to two AIB Munster titles in three seasons with their 1-21 to 2-9 win over Milltown-Malbay of Clare. 1-6 without reply in the opening 12 minutes sent the Killarney outfit well on their way to victory. Dr Crokes weren’t the only team from the Killarney hinterland celebrating at the weekend. Kilcummin captured the Munster Intermediate title with a 1-11 to 1-3 win over Fermoy.
It’s the turn of Ulster next weekend as Thír Chonaill, Gaoth Dobhair and Monaghan’s Scotstown meet in Omagh next Sunday.
"They've got it, they've done it, they've stolen it, they've won it!", shouted the exasperated Northern Sound radio commentator, Alan Gunn, at the end of Scotstown’s recent dramatic semi-final win over Eoghan Rua Coleraine in Omagh.
Gunn’s passion was evident as he had not only witnessed an amazing spectacle, but he also reflected the feeling of many of those listening who wanted their fellow county men to win.
“I’m not a Scotstown man but I feel like one right now!”, exclaimed Gunn - whose joy was a reminder that club success is not just about the borders of one’s parish, it’s something that can bring pride to a whole county.
That passion will once again be on display this Sunday as Scotstown take on Gaoth Dobhair. A long wait will end for one of counties involved. While Killybegs (1991), Naomh Conaill (2010) and Glenswilly (2013) all got to Ulster finals, no Donegal side has won the provincial championship since St Joseph’s in 1975. Scotstown contested a final as recently as 2014. However, no team from the Farney county have conquered Ulster since 1991.
In Hurling and Camogie
Ask any of the older generation of Ballyboden players and they’ll probably tell you the only regret they have from their period of dominance in Dublin was not making an impact in Leinster. Although they won 6 county titles between 2007 and 2013, they never won a provincial final.
Any questions lingering about the Firhouse side’s resilience this season have been well and truly answered in their run to the final. Not only did they need a replay to beat Kilmacud Crokes in the county final, but they got through a combined total of 3 periods of extra time to beat Clonkill of Westmeath and Coolderry of Offaly. Now they face Kilkenny hurling aristocracy in the shape of Ballyhale Shamrocks.
The adage of a team reflecting their manager is apt for these two teams. In their passage to Sunday’s decider, Ballyhale have shown a determination mixed with a skill and a clinical edge that define their manager Henry Shefflin. Under Joe Fortune, Ballyboden have shown a passion and spirit that defines all good teams but also the guile required to win.
Having enjoyed success with Dublin minor and under 21 teams, Fortune may have felt disappointed not to have had some role with the Dublin senior side in recent years.
“After the 21’s hadn’t worked out maybe I sat at home and felt sorry for myself a bit,” said Fortune after their county final win over Crokes. Despite some reservations in hurling circles, he jumped into the Ballyboden hot seat and has never looked back.
“People thought I was mad going out there, people thought they were finished but there’s a massive spirit in that club (and) there’s a massive sense of community”.
The real skill of management is getting the best out of people and that’s exactly what Fortune has done with Paul Ryan. Across the last four games the Dublin forward has scored 1-44 and his dead ball striking has been a major contributor to Ballyboden’s historic run to the final. Sometimes even the greats need encouragement and that’s exactly what Fortune did. “Maybe at the start of the winter last year he doubted himself a small bit, I had a conversation with him and told him he has to believe how good he is.”
The term ‘No Country for Old Men’ doesn’t apply to the Club Championship and this weekend two Kilkenny greats will be out to add to their already impressive medal hauls in a big double header at Nowlan Park. Eddie Brennan won eight All-Ireland titles with Kilkenny and enjoyed club success with Graigue Ballycallan, who won the Leinster Senior Championship in 2000. The club have experienced ups and downs, including the pain of relegation. This season they reclaimed their senior status and can now possibly add a Leinster Intermediate crown when they meet Portlaoise this Saturday.
One of Brennan’s former teammates, Noel Hickey, is also in provincial final action this Saturday when Dunamaggin face Na Fianna in the Leinster Junior Final. One of the best full backs to ever play the game, Hickey was the foundation of the great Cats team of the last decade. The 37-year-old missed the county final through injury but returned for the semi-final where he played corner back. It’s excepted he’ll be in the number 3 jersey this weekend.
As great as Noel Hickey is, even he would have struggled to stop Kilmessans’s Megan Thynne last weekend. The Meath dual star scored 2-2 as Kilmesssan beat Roscommon’s Four Roads in the All-Ireland Junior Final in Navan. It was a great day overall for Meath, with Ratoath overcoming Clontibret 1-12 to 0-3 in the Junior B final.
Finally, “Club is family” is a very apt term for the Burkes of Galway’s St Thomas’. In 2013, John Burke managed a side boasting several of his sons to an All-Ireland title. St Thomas’ recaptured the Galway championship earlier this month but that wasn’t the end of the success for the Burke family this season. John Burke has since moved to Oranmore-Maree and last Saturday led them to a Connacht Intermediate crown with a 1-20 to 1-15 win over defending champions Tooreen. All-Ireland winners with Galway, Niall Burke (no relation to the manager) and Gearóid McInerney played their part in the win for Oranmore who are enjoying the best hurling season they’ve ever had.
Saturday December 1st
Leinster club JHC final: Dunnamaggin (Kilkenny) v Na Fianna CLG (Meath), Nowlan Park Kilkenny, 12.00pm
Leinster club IHC final: Graigue Ballycallan (Kilkenny) v Portlaoise (Laois), 1.30pm, Nowlan Park Kilkenny, 1.45pm.
Ulster club IFC final: Mullahoran (Cavan) v Naomh Eanna (Antrim), Athletic Grounds Armagh, 5.00pm
Sunday December 2nd
Ulster club SFC final: Gaoth Dobhair (Donegal) v Scotstown (Monaghan ), Healy Park Omagh, 2.00pm.
Leinster club SHC final: Ballyboden/Saint Enda’s (Dublin) v Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny), Netwatch Cullen Park Carlow, 2.00pm.
Munster club JHC final: Ballinmeela (Waterford) v Cloughduv (Cork), Mallow, 1.00pm
Munster club JFC final: Beaufort (Kerry) v Dromtariffe (Cork), Mallow, 3.30pm